Wonky Wednesday: Supreme Court 5th Judicial District

Welcome back to #wonkywednesday. Each week I take a deep dive into the electoral and voter registration data that makes up our home here in Onondaga County and across New York State. Once again, I revisit how redistricting is impacting our county. This time we take a look at the Supreme Court race for the 5th Judicial district.

The 5th Judicial District in New York spans six counties, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Oswego, & Onondaga county. The Supreme Court is the largest non-statewide race on the ballot in New York. The Supreme Court is actually the first step for many civil cases in New York not the final court as the name would imply. Supreme Court justices serve for 14-year terms and often elected several justices in a single year due to retirements and natural ends of terms. In 2022 the 5th Judicial District will have three seats up as David Murad (D), Edward D Carni (R) terms are up, and Patrick McRae (R) has reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy.

The 5th Judicial district is a pretty evenly split district. Republicans have the smallest plurality of enrollment with 35% of the district. Democrats are 33% of the district in a close second. Non-enrolled are 25% of the district. By region Onondaga County dominates the district with 48% of the enrolled voters, Oneida County comes in second at 21% of the voters, and Oswego (12%), Jefferson (10%), Herkimer (6%) and Lewis (3%) round out the six-county district.

It is only because Onondaga County is so populous that the district remains competitive. In fact, this district could be seen as two polar opposites. Democratic leaning Onondaga County versus the other five republican leaning counties. Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, and specially Oswego’s GOP tilt makes it hard for a Democrat to get elected unless the rely heavily on the turnout in Onondaga County. This often means relying on even years with higher turnout to have a chance.

Democrats have made substantial gains in the district gaining over 19k voters since 1996. Republicans have lost over 38k voters since 1996. Of course, as is the trend with many seats, the non-enrolled grew the most gaining nearly 38k voters since 1996. Democrats seemed poised to take over the plurality of this district by drawing within 10k voters in 2019. However, since then the Has grown its margin to 14k vote plurality. This is because Onondaga County has been trending blue while the rest of the district has trended redder since 2020.

Despite our enrollment disadvantage, Democrats have seen a good deal of success since 2004. From 199 to 2004 the court elected 13 GOP judges to just 1 Democratic judge. Since 2004 11 Democrats have been elected to 14 GOP. This is usually because in odd years Democrats have employed a strategy of running fewer judges concentrating all their votes on one or running in even years where Democratic turnout is higher to support Governor or Presidential candidates.

We do not yet know the official candidates for Supreme Court. Supreme Court candidates for the major parties are not nominated directly by the voters. There is a judicial convention held in August who nominate slates of candidates to face off in the General Election. While it is announced that David Murad (D) is running for re-election the other seats have no announced judicial candidates as of this time.

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